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Maternal Matters

Contemporary health and social care practitioners situate maternal processes within both a physical and emotional framework. In addition to adopting lifestyle patterns that are conducive to good physical health, pre- and post-natal emotional wellbeing is increasingly being identified as a key factor in predicting outcomes for mothers and young children. More broadly, the emotive elements of pregnancy, childbirth and child-rearing are also conditioned by the psychological stimuli of mass media, social mores and religious customs. If it is tempting to consider that the emotional upheaval of maternity is a modern construct, this strand is concerned with the emotional dimensions of motherhood in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spain, examining how the holistic experience of motherhood – that is, from gestation to childbirth through the experience of parenting – was articulated as an emotionally significant experience and consider the importance of emotional factors in the construction of the maternal subject.  Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spain reveals a sustained preoccupation with how emotional and physical factors intersect in the construction of the maternal subject. The backdrop of the Counter-Reformation was underpinned by a renewed insistence and vigour for affective Marian veneration; in particular, insofar as her status as mother of Heaven and Earth was concerned. There existed a proliferation of didactic literature which sought to appeal to the emotional sensibilities of its readership and a general interest in medical scholarship which attempted to codify maternal medicine and situate it within a physical, emotional and social framework. Significantly, there has been no attempt to disentangle and reconnect the emotional dimensions of motherhood with the pragmatic concerns of pregnancy, childbirth and child-rearing in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spain.  There is a pressing ethical need to develop a holistic understanding of motherhood which acknowledges the affective political, social, economic and religious inflections of maternal matters. To do so will be to offer an embodied view of mental and emotional health with a view to understanding how emotional concerns shape our experience of physical (well)being.

The Maternal Matters strand is led by Catherine Maguire, a PhD student on Living with Feeling.